This week, I left the 12-step fellowship to which I had belonged for the first three years of my recovery. If you have read my blog up to this point, you can pretty much follow my evolution through my writings; my struggle with, and eventual rejection of the basic tenets of the 12-step program.

There is great value and strength to 12-step fellowships. It was exactly where I needed to be for the first few years of my recovery, and I will continue to recommend them to those in early recovery. The strength of the group, the practical lessons in how to stay abstinent, and the development of personal spirituality are all important experiences for the person in early recovery. These concepts and devices will continue to be parts of my recovery as I move forward.

The parts that I struggled with were the basic fundamental concepts; that I cannot self-direct my recovery, that my addiction was a symptom of a “spiritual malady” which I can treat but never resolve, and that I can only maintain recovery through lifelong fealty to the 12-step program. I reached a point at which the conflict was too great and actually started to manifest itself in my daily life. I was “restless, irritable and discontent”-the purported hallmarks of insufficient surrender to the 12-step program. As I said, they were right about a lot of things!

The most beautiful thing that I have experienced in nearly four years was when I posted my decision to social media and received the unquestioning support of people like me, who felt like I did and who had done what I am doing. As one of them pointed out, there are roughly 23.5 million people in recovery, and only 8 million or so in 12-step fellowships. They assured me that I am not alone, and that there are others who can relate to my experience. Sound familiar? I have many friends who share my experience and provide me with hope, faith and confidence; with whom I share a common bond. I read literature from all over the world that provides inspiration and education. I can meet with all kinds of people in a variety of settings to discuss recovery or life in general. I can be of service to my community, and advocate for recovery in the public forum, and people can receive my message without having to follow any particular philosophy. I can “give back” in many ways.

The takeaway from all of this is that the 12-step fellowships are not the only place to get the essential components of recovery. They are available to us all, in many settings and contexts. All of the strengths and virtues in the 12 steps and the fellowships are hugely important; but fellowship with others in recovery, contact with spiritual sources of affirmation and inspiration, and rewarding opportunities to be of service can all be found in our communities. For me, the goal of recovery is not simply to function but to flourish in my community; and this means being able to navigate and access resources in order to meet my needs. To be a fully functioning, flourishing person, whether in recovery or not, is to have these skills and abilities; in this sense, recovery in ultimum is life itself.

The 12-step fellowships provide a small, stocked pond to catch one’s sustenance at the beginning; however, if one chooses, the ocean is out there. It is vast and hazardous; but it beckons to those who must be the captains of their own ships.